Union Leader: SAFE Act Would Undermine OSHA

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

The Safety Advancement for Employees Act of 1999 (SAFE Act) introduced by Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., would undermine OSHA's ability to enforce the law and create an unworkable system, according to Margaret Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO.

The SAFE Act (S. 385) would allow companies to hire private consultants to review workplaces and identify hazards. Companies that satisfactorily addressed those hazards would be given a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.

Speaking at the American Society of Safety Engineers' Professional Development Conference & Expo in Baltimore, Seminario said OSHA would be hard-pressed because of resource constraints to develop a system for certifying third-party consultants. Citing ergonomics as an example, she indicated it would be difficult to establish who had the appropriate credentials to review ergonomic conditions in the workplace.

Seminario also complained that the bill established a "safe harbor" from complying with OSHA standards. Instead, she said, the bill would create a different obligation, that of meeting the consultant's determination that the hazards he identified had been corrected.

The SAFE Act also might encourage employers to "contract out their safety and health functions and responsibilities," said Seminario, who emphasized that companies need personnel who are "involved, are competent, who know what is going on" in a facility to deal with safety and health. Downsizing in-house safety and health personnel already is a "huge problem," she added.

The AFL-CIO could support other types of incentives for employers to obtain consultants' reviews, such as reduced penalties if a subsequent OSHA inspection resulted in citations or protection for employers against willful violations, Seminario said.

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